Standing in the Amazon Music Lounge at Climate Pledge Arena on Tuesday, tour guide Joe Vella asked Alexa to play some suitable musical for visitors. Amazon’s voice assistant powered up Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
As the decades-old grunge hit blared in the year-old hangout space for musicians, Vella banged his head of long hair along with the song. He told Alexa she did a good job.
“Thanks. Seattle rocks,” the AI replied.
The interaction was just the type of display that should play well with tourists as the arena begins new guided tours to show off the $1.15 billion reimagining of the old KeyArena.
Fans who have taken in a Seattle Kraken or Storm game, concert, or some other event at Climate Pledge Arena may have previously left with a lingering desire to understand more about the venue’s history, redevelopment and functionality.
The new guided tours are designed to convey that information using a variety of video and audio enhancements, powered by a special tech interface and behind-the-scenes access. GeekWire got a preview on Tuesday morning.
“The tours are a way for somebody to learn at at a high level all of the different pieces that make Climate Pledge Arena unique,” said Dave Currry, vice president of technology at the arena. “A lot of it was driven by our peers and other interested parties — sponsors, other teams, other venues — that are evaluating similar technology or solutions.”
The roughly 75-minute walking tour covers about a mile of distance, across multiple levels of the arena — from 80-feet below ground level where the ice sits, to high in the rafters where the press bridge is located. Along the way there are about 19 stops, including at the Kraken and Storm locker rooms, the green room for visiting performers, the Amazon Music Lounge, the Amazon Living Wall, a Kraken owners’ suite, the Pitchbook Winformation Wall, and much more.
GeekWire’s tour was led by Vella, one of a dozen or so guides hired so far to give fans the lowdown on what makes Climate Pledge special. With a background in theater and improv and a dedicated following on Twitch, Vella followed a memorized script, while relying on his own sports and music fandom to spice things up.
The guides use an iPhone strapped to their wrist so they know which tour stop is next, and to initiate and end audio and visual prompts in the arena each time they enter and leave specific stops. Music and lighting is customized for each stop, and gets more dramatic depending on the location.
For instance, moving from the Kraken locker room to the ice rink, those on tour get to walk the same tunnel that the NHL team does for games. The music is loud at this point and it’s accentuated by the sound of 17,000 cheering fans. The making of the ice and how and where it’s stored during other events is a big point of curiosity for visitors, and it was below a Seattle University basketball court when GeekWire visited.
Burbank, Calif.-based BRC Imagination Arts worked with the tech team at Climate Pledge to integrate its custom presentation with the AV systems that usually deliver a variety of media to fans at a game or concert. The company previously designed a tour for Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the Raiders.
Tours can run simultaneously, staggered every 20 minutes without bumping into one another. Operators using a simple iPad interface can track the location of each guide at stops along the way. The tech talks to every light, LED wall, speaker and security area, and operators can power down the whole system in time for the arena’s normal tech team to take over for game night.
“We basically built a code backbone that can translate and talk to every system in the building,” said Edward Hodge, VP and creative director at BRC, who spent about eight or nine months developing the arena tour.
If needed, the order of a tour can be rearranged in the system like songs on a playlist, which is fitting because sound plays a key role. There are 100 audio zones along the way.
“We go into every stop on the tour and we treat them like cinema spaces where we tune every speaker,” Hodge said. “We treat this just like we would treat a big attraction. I always say it’s like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ without a boat. Everything else is very similar in terms of technology and all the show control systems.”
The tour is heavy on the promotion of a primary focus at Climate Pledge Arena — sustainability. The place was named by Amazon after the company bought the rights in 2020 and sought to draw more attention to its environmental initiative. Discussions at multiple stops are about measures that the arena takes to be environmentally friendly. Even the ticket attached to guests’ lanyards is made from plantable seed paper.
Beyond the Living Wall of plants and the Music Lounge, Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” cashierless retail technology, used in a variety of concession spots in the arena, also gets a stop and mention.
Curry, the venue’s tech leader, was a longtime IT exec with the Seattle Mariners. He said an arena that hosts sports and concerts and other events from night to night is very different from a traditional ballpark, and visitors will enjoy learning what goes into making it all work.
“The Space Needle and Seattle Center are a huge, huge draw for folks vacationing here and wanting to see the main attractions in Seattle,” Curry said. “And we’re among them.”
Climate Pledge Arena tour tickets will start at $49, with discounts for Kraken and Storm season ticket holders and others. A tour along with a “Drink with a View” add-on in the Space Needle Lounge will run $60.
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